"San Antonio Four" screening to examine women's innocence claims

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Anna Vasquez, 37, is 12 years into a 15-year sentence at Murray Unit in Gatesville. Arrested at age 19, she had planned on going to nursing school

Elizabeth Ramirez, Anna Vasquez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh were accused unspeakable things.

Ramirez's nieces, then age 7 and 9, claimed a week-long stay at their aunt's one-bedroom apartment in July 1994 turned into an orgy-like nightmare. They told authorities the women, lounging around drunk and high, held them by their wrists and ankles and repeatedly violated them. The girls claimed their aunt and her friends threatened to kill them and their families if they ever talked.

But the forensic evidence used to convict the women was fundamentally flawed, as the E-N's Michelle Mondo first uncovered in late 2010. Furthermore, the two girls' stories were wildly inconsistent – times, weapons supposedly wielded against them, the perpetrators present, and other basic details changed each time they told the story to authorities.

This year, one of the victims came forward to say the crime never happened. Now, with mounting evidence that jurors made a mistake when they convicted the four friends, there's a growing movement to free them and clear their names.

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Elizabeth Ramirez, 38, is serving a 37 and a half year sentence at the Hobby Unit in Marlin. She was 20 years old and pregnant when arrested.

Three of the women have nearly served their entire sentences. Ramirez, pegged the ringleader, was given 37 and a half years in prison. She'll be 60 by the time her sentence is up.

This Saturday at Our Lady of the Lake University, Austin-based filmmaker Deborah Esquenazi, who's been following the women's case for months, will show footage from a documentary that's in works she's calling "San Antonio Four." She'll also hold a panel discussion with the women's family members.

For an upcoming feature related to the women's case, the Current recently visited the women in prison. Each was in a same-sex relationship when they were accused, and each felt homophobia played a part in securing their conviction (even though research clearly shows lesbians are not predisposed to sexually abusing children). The Alliance at OLLU is helping sponsor the event.

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Cassandra Rivera, 37, is 12 years into her 15-year sentence at the Hobby Unit in Marlin. When she was arrested, Rivera was 19 years old and raising two children.

We also spoke to Esquenazi last month about her project. Esquenazi estimates it will be years before she's finished with the documentary, saying, “I'm down this road, I'm invested in their exoneration.” The women's attorney, Mike Ware with the Innocence Project of Texas, says he's currently talking with the Bexar County District Attorney's Office to determine the best way to move forward.

After first meeting the women in prison, Esquenazi said she saw “a power and a strength that I've never seen before.”

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Kristie Mayhugh, 39, is 12 years into her 15-year sentence at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville. She was arrested at age 21 while studying to become a veterinarian.

“These women define truth in a way the justice system cannot,” she said. “They have stuck to their guns. They have maintained their innocence. They've passed polygraphs. They've refused sex offender treatment porgrams. They are sort of the ones defining truth and morality here. And I think there's something really powerful about that.” -- Michael Barajas

The “work-in progress screening” is Saturday, October 13 at 6 p.m. at OLLU's Thiry Auditorium at 411 S.W. 24th St 

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